The Soest Garden, part of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, is small, but well planted and pretty enough for many return visits. July blooms are beautiful, as they are in most gardens, but lush ornamental grasses take the stage too, and if you look closely fascinating details abound.

Below, stamens have dropped off the flower of a Magnolia tree and fallen onto one of the flower petals.


Astrantia major, or Pink masterwort, is in the same family as carrots and Queen Ann’s Lace.  Astrantia illustrates a common and interesting plant structure – what looks like one flower is actually a wheel of bracts supporting many tiny flowers. Bracts provide protection for flower buds and later, as you can see, they help pollinators zero in on the target. Poinsettias are another example of prominent bracts we mistake for flowers. Their flowers are actually small and green, in the middle of the red bract cluster.

In this photo the flowers haven’t opened all the way – the five white curving structures will extend later to support the stamens, which hold the pollen.  Click here to see some really beautiful extreme close-ups of Astrantia major.

A bee explores a Globe thistle – Echinops ritro.  Echinops means looks like a hedgehog – a pretty good name! This plant’s family, Asteraceae or the Aster famliy (also called the composite family), has tightly packed flowers, which you can see below.   We call the whole ball of blue a flower, but it’s really a cluster of many small flowers. These plants are tough, as you’d imagine, and are fun to see in the garden. They provide a visual foil to more graceful flowers – I mean plants!


The well known Echinacea purpurea, or Coneflower,  is in the same family as the Echinops. The pinkish petals are ray florets and the center is made of disk florets. The disk florets have male and female parts but the ray florets do not. The head of disk florets in the center opens gradually, in concentric circles, from the outside in.

I didn’t mean this to be a botany lesson! But the variety in plants is fascinating – and the more you investigate, the more you peer closely, the more amazing it seems.

Below, a Balloon flower, or Platycodon gradiflorus, nods gracefully amidst delicate ornamental grasses. In bud this flower looks just like a little balloon. Now that it’s open you can see how the petals are fused.

The attractively colored style in the middle has caught pollen from the stamens, mostly hidden behind the style. Soon the style will split open and curl back in five parts – it’s all fives with this flower.  Strangely enough, pollen from other Balloon flowers will adhere to the female part, but this flower’s own pollen is designed to be transported by an insect to a neighboring Balloon flower. Parts mature at slightly different times to avoid self-pollination, keeping the gene pool diverse – at least I think that’s how it works!

I do know that I love the colors here…

Simplicity itself, the Hosta leaf pleases the eye.

Taking a step back, the garden is framed by a small tree with multiple trunks. Like many trees in our area, it’s covered with lichens, giving the bark a beautiful color and texture.

I desaturated the colors here to bring out the textures. We’ve had an unusually warm, dry year and some leaves are falling already.  This one didn’t make it to the ground yet. I like seeing leaves or petals caught by other leaves, or flowers.  There’s something very poetic about it.

Just outside the Soest Garden are fields of wilder grasses and flowers. Here, Queen Anne’s Lace sways in the breeze among ripe, golden grasses.

I love summer!

Misty Pass – a Short Hike on the Pacific Crest Trail at Snoqualmie

As we headed east on I-90 towards Snoqualmie Pass, the fog and mist grew heavier and I wondered if I would regret going up into the mountains today. Back home, morning clouds had already given way to sun, and lately I’ve been focussed – OK,  obsessed, with getting out into every sunny day I can here in Seattle, where summer is stunningly gorgeous but all too short.

The doubts disappeared as soon as we started on the trail though – mists rolled down the mountainside from some notch above like giant puffs, and it was really cool to walk in the midst of the clouds that are usually high above you.

We were  hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada.  Most of the people we saw on the trail were through hikers – going all the way, or close to it. They were from Indiana, Ottawa, Rochester, and elsewhere. Their faces beamed under layers of dust as they spoke of elk, bear and coyote. Zack, the first hiker we met, was a lovely shade of dusty brown from his dread-locked hair to his boots. As he leaned in to show us a cache of ripe huckleberries he’d just picked, the smell was powerful!  I wish I’d taken his photo, but I did record some of my favorite sights on the trail:

Here’s the Pacific Crest Trail register. We pulled it out of its waterproof housing to read the  most recent entries. The PCT is  2,663 miles long and typical through hikers do about 20 miles a day, re-supplying at the nearest towns when possible. Our friend Zack was heading off trail for real food, and then hoped to meet up with a friend who was rock-climbing up near Leavenworth. He looked at our map so he could figure out which roads to hitch-hike on.  It was probably a good 90 miles, but after hiking up from the Sierra Nevada I’m guessing that was a minor challenge.

By the way, the fastest through hiker, Scott Williamson, set a record of 64 days, 11 hours, 19 min.  From Mexico to Canada. And all the through hikers we met were young, and most had school or a  job to go back to. Reminds me that it’s a luxury. Even our hike required a car, some free time, and decent health, all of which we’re lucky to have.

If you click on the open book photo you can read notes people left in the register – NOBO means northbound.

For us the turn-around point was just a few miles south at Lodge Lake. My guidebook said it reflects the surroundings mountains, but today we were content to sit on logs at the lake’s edge, snacking on Cliff bars and watching the mist roll over the lake. There were hundreds of waterstriders – pretty big ones – and as they jumped across the surface, swifts zipped around overhead.

In certain parts of the forest, hemlocks and Doug firs collect the mist. When it drops off the needles everything underneath glistens.

   The meadows were speckled with red, yellow, purple and white wildflowers – and best of all, berries! I sampled blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries and tiny wild strawberries.

    I blurred the image above a little to convey the dreamy, seamless beauty of the meadow and misty treeline.

Only four miles for us – not forty a day, like the guy who set the speed record.

And now it’s time for ice cream…


Mid August is almost here and you don’t need a calendar to know it. Earth holds its breath for a few days – everything is still, heavy with light and summer dreams, waiting to move forward into autumn.
A late afternoon elegy of sunlight breaks through the tree line along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, speaking of summer’s impending dispersion into fall.

This photo was taken (but sometimes I think they’re given to me) at a preserve near Woodinville, WA. I felt uninspired – glum, even. But I forced myself into the car and went searching  for a little deliverance. It came gradually:  a field of flowers, a jay, a wren, a creek, leaves, seeds…and color and light.